Memories of Northgate grammar

SCHOOL pupils have now settled in to their new high school way of life after a few weeks of the new term. After visits during the previous weeks with parents or to use sports facilities at the high schools, the layout of the buildings and many of the staff would be familiar.

SCHOOL pupils have now settled in to their new high school way of life after a few weeks of the new term. After visits during the previous weeks with parents or to use sports facilities at the high schools, the layout of the buildings and many of the staff would be familiar.

When I left Cliff Lane, Ipswich Primary School to go to Landseer Secondary Modern in 1957 it was very different. Until I walked through the gate of Landseer school on my first day I had never been there before. To a skinny little lad it all seemed very frightening. Everything and everybody seemed twice my size including my new “You will grow into it” blazer!

Rod Cross of Clifford Road, Ipswich, recalls his first day at Northgate Grammar School for Boys, Ipswich, at the same time as I was starting Landseer Secondary Modern. Rod was a pupil at Northgate from 1957 to 1964.

Rod said: “It was 8.30 on a Thursday morning in mid-September 1957 and Sidegate Lane, Ipswich, was awash with black-blazered boys on cycles. Some of the oldest boys who were without caps were prefects with red braid on their sleeves. They had an air of nonchalance. They've been this way before, many times.

“The youngest boys wore black caps with red and black badges. Their blazers were pristine and their short trousers stopped just short of bony pink knees, long grey socks and black lace-up shoes. The young boys were chattering excitedly as they cycled towards the school in a vain attempt to disguise their nervousness. We were about to start on the next seven years of our life.

“The abrupt change can be quite traumatic and to counter this, pupils now are given every assistance to make the transition as soon as possible with welcoming letters, handbooks, talks from staff, and preliminary visits. All intended to ease the way for the new recruit. Half a century ago however, this was considered unnecessary. Pupils arrived on the first day of the new term as little more than a name on a register and were expected to adapt as they went along. It was a complete culture shock, at least, it was for me, as I entered through the gates of Northgate that morning for the very first time.

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“For a start, like everybody else, I had come from a mixed-sex school. Northgate was an all-male preserve. Not only were all the staff men, but half the pupils spoke in deep voices and sported six o'clock shadows. No lisping little girls or maternal, gently-spoken reception class teachers here! All members of staff were referred to as masters except the headmaster. He was known as 'The Beak.' He addressed us first that morning. He wore a long, black gown, through which he hooked his thumbs as he spoke. Looking around, I noticed that the other masters wore similar gowns which helped create the impression that I had now entered the world of academia.

“Once the preliminaries were over, we were allocated a form master, who led us to our form rooms. These rooms were based around grassed quadrangles, which immediately brought to mind images of sandaled monks in brown habits, striding through abbey cloisters. The grass itself was sacrosanct and woe betide any boy who placed as much as a toe on its hallowed surface!

“The form rooms were different to anything I had previously encountered. They were light and airy, due in part to the fact that the outside wall was composed of enormous, hinged windows which could be made to concertina apart. They were also low enough to see out of, which for me, whose previous school dated back to 1907, was a novelty in itself! At the front of the room was a dais upon which stood the master's desk. The rest of the space was occupied by single wooden desks. Many of these were carved with the initials of previous occupants; others conveyed less savoury information! In total, there were places for 30 pupils, a direct contrast to the 45-50 most of us had previously experienced in our junior school classes.

“When the register was taken, there were 27 responses of 'Yes, Sir', with just one absentee. 'Sir', it appeared was the acknowledged way of addressing all masters, though each had a more personalised moniker used by the boys when they thought they were out of earshot! It was advisable for all first-formers “firsties” to learn each and every one of these as soon as possible. It wouldn't do if he couldn't distinguish his 'Tango' from his 'Butch' or his 'Pod' from his 'Doc'!

“Following the register, other administrative tasks were completed, which created further shocks and surprises. The first of these was the completion of subject timetables. Some of the old favourites had acquired exciting new names. Arithmetic was now mathematics; handwork was now craft; science appeared for the first time replacing what we had previously called nature study. There was also the addition of French, which I had anticipated and Latin, which I most certainly had not. Things really were getting serious!

“Just to compound my fears, a timetable was then issued for homework or 'prep' as it was referred to by some of the older, more senior masters. Fifty years ago, there was no tradition of homework in primary schools, so it was not something we were familiar with. To be told we would be set extra work in two subjects each evening, plus three at the weekend seemed a total restriction to my liberty!”

“We were also given various text books, which we were instructed to take home and cover in brown paper! Apparently, this was to protect them from damage, though given the state of some of the books, this was already something of a lost cause! One of the books was a pocket-sized version of 'Songs of Praise'. This contained such gems as 'Onward, Christian Soldiers!' and 'I Vow to Thee My Country'. Stirring assembly numbers for an all-boys school!

“At 10.45, a metallic-sounding electric bell signalled playtime or break as it was now known. A horde of boys galloped onto the playground and lined up by an open window. Peering in, I noticed two very important-looking senior boys jealously guarding two huge wooden trays of sugar-covered jam doughnuts. These came daily from Joseph Hunt's Bakers in Spring Road and with scant regard for dental health were sold at 3 pence each on a first come, first served basis. Despite boys being limited to two doughnuts each, they sold out within minutes. They were replaced by a tray of square-shaped currant pastries, known as 'flats'. These cost 2½ pence and were consumed just as eagerly by the hungry mob.

“Our first two lessons or periods that day took place between 11.05 and 12.25, each being of 40 minutes duration. In both, we were given a brief introduction and issued with yet more text-books to cover. The masters also asked for our names individually and it was noticeable that those who were the younger siblings of those already attending the school seemed to have a distinct advantage over the others. Once they had confirmed that they were somebody's brother, they were greeted as old friends, unlike the rest who usually had to repeat their names or, at worst, spell them out letter by letter.”

“We were also primed that should “The Beak” deign to enter our room we all had to stand to attention by our desks. This was another ritual not previously encountered. Fortunately, when the august gentleman swept into the room, we rose to our feet as one and remained standing until he gave the signal for us to resume our seats. We had passed the test!

“I was one of the few who cycled home for dinner that day, returning to school at 1.25 for another two hour session. There were more books for covering, more lists of names to be collated and a constant stream of fresh directives to absorb. At 3.25, with my brain on overload, I hoisted my bulging leather satchel onto my back, wheeled my cycle down the path, and headed for home. As I joined up with old friends, there was just one topic of conversation. Where on earth were we going to find all that brown paper?”


Do you have memories of your first day at school? Write to Dave Kindred, Kindred Spirits, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich. IP4 1AN.